Urban regeneration in Eastern Europe: Waterfront revitalization and local governance in Tallinn, Estonia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Mercer


Estonia, Revitalization, Tallinn, Waterfront, Urban regeneration, Local governance

Subject Categories

Geography | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Urban Studies and Planning


Eastern Europe represents a serious gap amidst the voluminous scholarly research in large-scale urban regeneration. Our current understanding of urban regeneration relies heavily on concepts, such as entrepreneurial governance, urban regime and property-led regeneration, drawn from the North American and Western European contexts. These concepts have not been applied to Eastern Europe and do not incorporate empirical evidence from Eastern Europe.

This dissertation provides an in-depth analysis of waterfront revitalization in Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, and compares and contrasts that process with urban regeneration projects hitherto analyzed in the geographic literature. Empirical evidence are drawn from six months of fieldwork in Tallinn in 1997, including 42 in-depth interviews with 29 individuals who play prominent roles in the waterfront regeneration process.

The study makes two claims. First, it identifies the key characteristics of urban planning and the local urban governance in Tallinn, highlighting the similarities as well as the differences between Tallinn and other waterfront regeneration projects. The analysis emphasizes the rapidly changing, fluid and uncertain environment of urban governance and regeneration in Tallinn. Second, the research discusses the applicability of the existing urban theory to Tallinn and other post-socialist cities of Eastern Europe. I argue that because the economic, political, and institutional context of urban regeneration in Tallinn differs considerably from western cities, several key concepts employed widely in the scholarly literature, including urban regime and entrepreneurial governance, need to be modified to account for urban regeneration and governance in Tallinn. The research contributes to urban theory by suggesting some steps toward a theoretical framework which would better explain post-socialist urban development in Tallinn as well as other Eastern European cities. I argue that, rather than viewing urban change in Eastern Europe through the concepts that "have worked well in the West", urban research should engage with the specific legal and institutional context of urban development in post-socialist Eastern European cities.


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